March 09, 2016Indiana legislators made history on Feb. 29 by doing something no other state has done before: creating standards that will protect schools while also empowering law enforcement, all without adding to the state's budget.
For the first time, law enforcement, education and legislation united forces on a bill, which was proposed by State Sen. Phillip Boots (R-Crawfordsville), that will create school safety standards to protect those within a school and give law enforcement the tactical advantage to mitigate an active-shooter event. These standards will be set and regulated by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security as the baseline for the bill.
Senate Bill 147, which is on its way to be signed by the governor, is based on an emergency response system that virtually connects a school with its local law enforcement and first-responder community to provide real-time, life-saving information about an emergency, such as an active-shooter event, fire or natural disaster, happening inside a public school.
An ERS would provide:
Immediate notification of an emergency;
The whereabouts of a shooter, where they've been, where they are and where they're going;
The status of classrooms during an attack; whether those inside are safe, under attack or are wounded;
Protection of each classroom and administrative area so as not to allow a shooter to gain access to students, teachers, faculty and staff;
The ability for law enforcement to stop a shooter while in route to the scene;
The ability to keep a shooter out of the building; and
The ability for first responders to put a fire out before they arrive, none of which are today's current standards in the United States.
Mason Wooldridge, a school safety consultant for the Indiana Sheriff's Association, owner of M.B. Wooldridge and Associates LLC, a public safety consulting company in Indianapolis, and co-founder of the non-profit organization Our Kids Deserve It, said the push for school safety standards began with an initiative by the ISA about 2-1/2 years ago.
"It all started right after (the shootings at) Sandy Hook (Elementary) to find ways to better protect schools and has morphed into creating the safest school in America, which is in Shelby County," he said.
The school Wooldridge referenced is Southwestern Consolidated School District, which the ISA, in conjunction with other law enforcement, created as a flagship site to showcase what this new level of safety looks like.
"After Sandy Hook, pretty much every state's governor put together an active-shooter task force to find out what could be done so that another event didn't happen," Wooldridge said. "They found that law enforcement needed a lot more information than what they were getting."
Knowing this, Wooldridge said some states instituted emergency plans while others gave a little more funding to get school resource officers. But, he said, neither would actually help with an active-shooter situation. However, the ISA started reaching out to companies with the technology to meet those standards.
"The ISA said if these are the five things that law enforcement needs to mitigate one of these situations, let's figure out how to do this," he said. "They were able to find hardware, software and companies willing to work with them ... "
Southwestern uses a technology, Virtual Command, offered by Net Talon Security Systems Inc. in Virgina.
"In America, you have a lot of companies that have a lot of good technology and hardware that can keep kids safe — lock systems, door systems, protective glass — but no state has ever come together and brought all of those groups under one roof to validate all of those things," Wooldridge said.
Allowing law enforcement to be able to do something while in route will come in the form of a variety of counter measures available through each ERS system.
" ... what's important to understand is that they're all non-lethal," Wooldridge said.
Wooldridge said the national average for law enforcement to be notified of a school shooting is three minutes with the national average drive time to the scene seven to 15 minutes.
"These incidents, on average, are only lasting 6-1/2 minutes, so law enforcement, for the most part, is never there but to end the incident," he said. "They needed something that they could do during this drive time that could stop these shooters, so Southwestern's counter measures have the ability to obscure the vision of the shooter while law enforcement can still track them the entire time."
Wooldridge said other examples include doors that can isolate the shooter into an area as a trap, a smoke-based obscuration or a dye that will stick to the shooter's skin for up to seven years if they escape.
The cost of these systems would depend on the size of the school; however, creating new funding mechanisms to pay for the security upgrades outside of the school's annual budget was a primary focus of SB 147.
"This year, the General Assembly is in a non-budgetary session, so the main point of the bill was to get homeland security, the law enforcement groups of Indiana and the educational groups to create these standards so that, when a new school is being built, they can have all of these standards because there's no reason not to have glass that will stop bullets or to connect your campuses to the law enforcement," Wooldridge said. "Then, next year is a budgetary session and we'll come back again and put forth funding mechanisms so that any existing school won't have to use their educational budget to put these safety standards in."
Naysayers might think these ERS systems could make schools look like prisons, but Wooldridge said none of these standards will change how a school looks.
"You could walk through the hallways of a high school you went to and you could walk through the hallways of a school that has these standards and notice no difference," he said.
To Wooldridge, it just makes sense to implement school safety standards.
"There is no such thing as safety standards in schools; it doesn't exist," he said. "We have fire standards, and no one has died in a fire since 1957 in a school because there are these standards — fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, sprinkler systems — so what we're really trying to do is create enough data, dialogue and the funding behind it to where, 10 years from now, safety standards are just as common as your fire standards."